There’s plenty of talk in today’s papers about former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey’s, article in the Daily Mail where he accuses David Cameron of doing more than any other recent political leader to make Christians feel they are becoming a persecuted minority. He opens by saying:
‘I like David Cameron and believe he is genuinely sincere in his desire to make Britain a generous nation where we care for one another and where people of faith may exercise their beliefs fully.
‘But it was a bit rich to hear that the Prime Minister has told religious leaders that they should ‘stand up and oppose aggressive secularisation’ when it seems that his government is aiding and abetting this aggression every step of the way.’
Lord Carey acknowledges that talk of persecution of Christians in this country is much more a perception than a reality, but he goes on to list various examples where the Government is continuing to chip away at the Christian heritage of the United Kingdom. The comments by David Cameron that Lord Carey refers to were made at his annual Easter reception for church leaders last week (20 March).
I’ve been keen to find out what David Cameron actually said as most press reports have just included extracts. After a long rummage through the internet, I’ve finally found and having read it I thought it would make sense to share it. Here is the full transcript:
‘An extraordinarily warm welcome to this, the third Easter reception here at Number 10. When I became Prime Minister, I spotted that we were holding receptions for Eid and for Diwali, but we weren’t holding a reception for Christians, and so I introduced this. And I think it’s right to have it at Easter, the most important Christian festival, the one that has all the challenges of faith, but really is all about – for me, anyway – the triumph of life over death. So, you’re very welcome.
‘It’s an extraordinary week for Christians as we’ve had the new Pope yesterday (19 March), with extraordinary scenes and a great change that will be. And tomorrow (21 March) I am very excited about going to Canterbury to see Justin Welby become our new Archbishop, and so this is a great week for Christians and it’s wonderful to have you here to share.
‘I do have a serious message for you tonight, and the message is that this Government does care about faith; it does care about the institutions of faith and it does want to stand up and oppose aggressive secularisation that can sometimes happen in our society. As I’ve said, it’s a good week to celebrate not just the importance of faith in our country, but also the importance of faith institutions in our country in this week when we’ve seen a new Pope and we will see a new Archbishop, because these institutions do matter.
‘Father Gillean Craig from St Mary Abbots gave a brilliant sermon last Sunday to say, ‘Well, what is it that the arrival of a new Pope and the arrival of a new Archbishop and our annual church meeting have in common?’ He made the very good point that institutions matter whether they are enormous, representing the billions of Catholics in the world, or whether they are small, local institutions that help bring our communities and our country together.
‘And so my message for you is that we should have faith, we should have hope and we should have charity. And a word on each: we should have faith because I know that our churches and particularly that our established church sometimes can struggle to attract new members of the congregation and it can sometimes, in any organisation, be a struggle. But actually what we have seen in London over the last decade is actually a 70% increase in the Church, and I think this is going to be what the new Archbishop will bring, which is a sense that if you can enthuse people, if you can fire people up, if you can show what institutions of faith can do, you can attract audiences, you can attract members, you can attract enthusiasm. So, we should have faith.
‘The second is hope. Yes, it’s a very difficult time in our country; yes, we’re having to take difficult decisions, and those difficult decisions affect people. But I hope that you can see that even in the midst of a difficult budget and difficult decisions that actually something very big and important happened today, which is that we have kept the promise to spend 0.7% of our gross national income on aid to the poorest in our world. And I think that is something we should celebrate, as Christians and as human beings.
‘I’m very proud of the fact we have appointed the first ever Minister for Faith, Sayeeda Warsi, and she has a voice at the Cabinet table; she does a brilliant job. We’ve sent out a very clear message to aggressive secularists: we changed the law so that people can go on saying prayers before council meetings. Michael Gove made the very brave decision, I thought, and right decision to give every state school a copy of the King James Bible. Some people said, ‘What a waste of money;’ I say no, I think it was a great use of money. This book is one of the things that made our country what it is today in terms of its messages and its brilliant language.
‘And, of course, I hope you can have hope in the fact that while Christians are being persecuted around our world, actually under this Government the Foreign Office has a very clear attitude of wanting to stand up for the rights of Christians and minorities all across the world. And we make – you know, I want you – to reassure you that when I meet with foreign leaders – whether it’s President Morsi in Egypt, whether it is President of Pakistan – wherever we go we stand up for the rights of Christians to practice their faith, and that is an important part of our country.
‘Finally, in terms of charity, I just wanted to celebrate again what it is that our faith communities do in terms of what I call the Big Society – in terms of the extraordinary richness of the voluntary bodies who work with prisoners, who work with young people, who work in very difficult and tough communities, who turn people’s lives around, who help the poorest in our country – the huge nature of the organisations that faith groups and church groups and Christian groups support. And I think that space is getting larger as you see organisations backing academy schools or setting up free schools – as you see organisations getting into the provision of services not just to the vulnerable, but more widely. I think it’s something we should celebrate and we should stand up for.
‘So, it’s great to have you here. That was my message: we want to celebrate faith. We want to celebrate the importance of faith institutions. We want to celebrate this important time at Easter with all of you, and we want to thank you for everything you do to put into our community and to help build our country. So, you’re very welcome. It’s wonderful to have you here and have a very, very happy Easter.’
David Cameron does deserve credit for allowing Christianity and religious faith to be discussed by government ministers in an open way that was not the case under the previous Labour government and his Easter receptions are a welcome part of that. I do believe he genuinely values the role of churches in this country and the valuable contribution Christians make to our society by engaging with their communities and in particular people who most others would choose to avoid. But despite this, Lord Carey is right to say that there is a level of distrust towards the Government from many Christians. From my viewpoint, the consensus is that David Cameron and his Government are happy to support Christians if it fits with what they want to do politically, but if the two are at odds then religious opinion and views by and large get ignored. And this is where the problem lies.
Lord Carey quotes a ComRes poll released today that suggests that more than three-quarters of Christians believe that the Government is not listening. As we know, words will only get you so far. Actions speak much louder and it is on the actions of his government that David Cameron will be judged by. So thank you David Cameron for your words of support of Christians, but don’t expect them to be taken at face value.
Updated March 31st
This is the official Prime Minister’s Easter message released on Easter Sunday 2013:
“I send my best wishes to all those in the United Kingdom and around the world celebrating Easter this year in what is an incredibly exciting time for the Christian faith worldwide.
“This year’s Holy Week and Easter celebrations follow an extraordinary few days for Christians; not only with the enthronement of Justin Welby as our new Archbishop of Canterbury, but also with the election of Pope Francis in Rome.
“In the Bible, Saint Peter reminds us of the hope that comes from new birth through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Christians, it also reminds us of Jesus’s legacy of generosity, tolerance, mercy, and forgiveness.
“That legacy lives on in so many Christian charities and churches both at home and abroad. Whether they are meeting the needs of the poor, helping people in trouble, or providing spiritual guidance and support to those in need, faith institutions perform an incredible role to the benefit of our society. As long as I am Prime Minister, they will have the support of this Government.
“With that in mind, I am particularly proud to lead a Government that has kept its promise to invest 0.7 per cent of our gross national income on helping the world’s poorest, and I am grateful that we have been able to partner with both Christian and non-Christian charities to relieve suffering overseas.
“I hope you have a very happy Easter.”
Happy Easter to you Mr Cameron. I pray that you may experience the love and blessing of Jesus too.